How Will Andrew Ladd Replace Kyle Okposo?

Stats and data via Hockey-Reference.com, puckalytics.com, ownthepuck.blogspot.ca

With Kyle Okposo on his way out of Long Island and headed into free agency, it left a huge hole to be filled on the Islanders top line. In fact, it didn’t even appear that Okposo or the Islanders had any interest in a new contract.

The Isles tried to dip into the trade and free agent while being linked to elite names such as Steven Stamkos, Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Jacob Trouba, David Backes, Loui Eriksson, and Andrew Ladd. Unfortunately, they were only to sign Andrew Ladd to a seven-year deal. This was probably a disappointment to Islander fans, as they got older and got an offensive decrease. On the first glimpse, it looks like Ladd will slide right onto the Tavares line, in Okposo’s place.

While that is true, it will be a different kind of player that John Tavares plays with.

Losing Okposo is a big hit on an offense that was 11th in goals scored. He had terrific chemistry with Tavares on the top line, while being a decent possession player, clocking in at 50.8 CF%. His points per/60 looked solid as he finished at 1.76 points/60 minutes this past season. Not elite, but those are solid numbers.

The issue with his production is that it is absolutely blown up by playing with Tavares. While playing with Tavares, Okposo has a GF% at an eye popping 60.0%, compared to his 44.9 GF% skating without the Islanders captain. Okposo also put half of his even strength points while playing with Tavares, as well.

Okposo’s numbers even fell off a cliff when he wasn’t playing with Frans Nielson. He played a lot more with the Danish center but didn’t quite score at the same pace as with Tavares. It would appear the story with Okposo is he needs to play with a skilled center in order to show above average production.

Luckily, for Okposo, he won’t have to worry about playing with skilled centers in Buffalo, with Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart.

Okposo is a great fit in just about any top six in the NHL. He can keep up with top line talents, can put the puck in the net, shows above average playmaking, doesn’t murder his team defensively, and is a pretty decent possession player (although that’s a direct result of the centers he plays with). Not much more else a team can ask for someone.

Not so shockingly, the Islanders weren’t comfortable making a seven year investment, worth $42 million for a 28 year old.

The thought was that the Islanders could use the money they would have spent on Okposo on Frans Nielson or to acquire a young forward. They ended up losing Nielson to the Red Wings and were unable to get any forwards that they desperately wanted.

The Plan B for the Isles brass was to get some sort of top six forward, not just strictly a young one. Moreover, they did just that by bringing in someone who can immediately step in and play top six minutes in Andrew Ladd.

There’s a ton of pro’s and con’s for the Ladd signing. For instance, aside from Johnny Boychuk, Ladd is the only player on the roster who has won a Stanley Cup, and he just so happens to have two. He was also the captain of the Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets for the better part of six seasons. Ladd also has only missed a total of 10 games since the 2008-09 season with Chicago. Factor that in with that he’s a lock for 25 goals, can play all throughout the lineup, spends plenty of time killing penalties, can shut down the opponents top line, he produces at a solid rate on 5v5, and you can see why the Islanders gave him that contract.

One thing to consider is his production away top-level forwards. Last season, when he was with Winnipeg, his two most common linemates were Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler. With the two of them, Ladd was at a 54.7 CF%. Without skating with them, he did his best impression of the Oilers and tanked all the way down to a CF% of 47.0. Meanwhile, Little and Wheeler, without Ladd, had respective CF% at 53.6 and 55.3. This shows Ladd can surely produce with any team’s top lines. However, he isn’t the engine that drives the line; he’s along for the ride, for sure.

The other side of that argument, though, would be that Ladd should thrive with Tavares. That would be true since Tavares is on a different level of skill and production than Little or Wheeler. Playing with someone like Tavares could result in some career highs for Ladd. I mentioned he was a lock for 25 goals, but playing with #91 could bump that up to over 30 goals.

So far, we know Okposo’s scoring production should be, at the worst, matched by Ladd. There should also be an increase in possession, since Ladd will most likely be with Tavares.

Okposo is better offensively and possession wise. (Chart via OwnThePuck)

Okposo is better offensively and possession wise. (Chart via OwnThePuck)

One other thing that should be noted is the point shares statistic on Hockey-Reference.com. Point shares, for those unfamiliar with the stat, estimates the number of points in the standings contributed by the player. Last season, Okposo had a point share of 7.2, while Ladd was at 4.9. Sure, Ladd also had his lowest producing year since his last year in Chicago. Okposo is still in his prime, while Ladd is in the beginning of his decline.

My concern is why did the Islanders not want to pay Okposo that money, only to give an extremely similar contract to Ladd? Okposo is better offensively, two years younger, and just makes $3.5 million more than the former Winnipeg Jet. They got the same exact term at seven years and Okposo will more likely to be productive when the contracts expire.

Ladd will step in and skate next the Islander captain and will probably have his best year of his career. He’ll chip in offensively, provide leadership for what looks to be a young team, and has the experience for the playoffs. He might hover around Okposo’s points/60 rate, while playing a solid two way game. Therefore, the Islanders essentially sacrificed a little scoring in order to be a little more well rounded. The Isles will most likely be slightly worse, points wise (not factoring in a potential John Tavares MVP season, of course) but should still be at least a wildcard team in the Eastern Conference.

 

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